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Penn's 800th football win and first win of the season after coming back in the second half. Credit: Laura Francis

Sports fans love to make rash judgements.

Only in the sports world can guys like Eagles quarterback Kevin Kolb go from a savior one week to a bum the next.

But when it comes to the 2010 Penn football team, Quakers fans should steer clear of a week-by-week mentality. In reality, we have learned little about this year’s squad so far.

It’s a difficult notion to grasp — that the last four weeks have meant next to nothing — but it’s true. When the Quakers play the Lafayettes, Villanovas and Bucknells of the world, there is relatively little on the line.

“We use those nonconference games as tune-ups,” senior defensive lineman Drew Goldsmith said.

Since Ivy League teams can’t qualify for postseason play, conference games are the sole determinant of who heads to the offseason with hardware and who heads home empty-handed.

So despite having one Ivy match behind them, the meat of Penn’s season won’t really begin until the Red and Blue take the field Saturday against Columbia.

“You can see it,” coach Al Bagnoli said. “There’s a little bit more excitement. There’s more kids up to watch films. There’s a little bit more attention to detail.

“They kind of get a sense that … from this day forward, we’re going to have to play well consistently for six weeks,” he added.

The same couldn’t be said before last week’s game against Bucknell, the Ancient Eight’s out-of-conference doormat. Goldsmith wouldn’t admit that the Quakers came out flat in the first half because they were looking ahead, but he did acknowledge that “the intensity wasn’t as high as Ivy games.”

“[The Ivy games are] more physical,” he added. “Guys put their bodies on the line.”

Guys put their bodies on the line when they have the ultimate prize in sight: a second straight Ivy title. And while attaining that goal may take another undefeated Ivy slate, there is almost no margin for error from now until the end of November.

“Your sense of urgency changes,” Bagnoli said. “There is such a narrow window that you have in our league — you’ve just got to be very, very careful that you take care of business and you prepare the best you can every week.”

With the familiarity that comes from playing Ivy teams year after year, planning for the games becomes more challenging. Stick with what’s worked in the past and risk being caught off guard by new wrinkles.

The Lions, for instance, have evolved from a pocket passing team into an “option attack” since the last time Penn played them, Bagnoli said.

Familiarity also breeds more emotion.

“We have a history with them,” Goldsmith said. “There’s a lot of [trash] talk going on. … There’s always that element that makes you want to shut them up.”

Despite early season success, Penn still has a lot to prove in its quest to repeat — that Billy Ragone and Ryan Becker are really the answer at quarterback; that the young running backs are ready for the big stage; that this year’s defensive leaders can replace last year’s champions.

“We haven’t accomplished much this year,” Goldsmith said, “so we’re all very excited to try to make our own mark and try to outdo what the guys did last year.”

BRIAN KOTLOFF is a junior communications major from Elkins Park, Pa. He can be contacted at

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